"Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath. Every moment is the guru." -- Charlotte Joko Beck

Monday, January 8, 2018

Lessons from a man named 'Flower'

Early in life, I learned something that has become sort of a way of life for me.  It’s a way to view the world around us and how we can make the most of what the world has to offer.  

But in order for you to understand this message, you need to know about the man who originated the concept and about his humble beginnings.  

On January 8, 1931, a boy was born to a poor Italian family living in the area of New York City known as Harlem.  As he grew up the boy soon learned that the middle name his mother gave him to represent the beauty and love he had brought into her life -- Fiore – would cause him trouble.  Back then, Harlem was primarily an Italian neighborhood, and the Italian kids he grew up with all loved to pick on the small boy with the middle name that translates to the word “Flower.”  He had to become tough, this boy.  He took many a beating, but learned to give back as good as he got. 

To add to his woes, the boy’s father was an alcoholic who frequently drifted away on binges for long periods at a time, usually taking what meager earnings he had with him and leaving the family to scrape for food.  The boy had to help bring food into the house, so he worked at odd jobs – carrying packages, painting, woodworking – always learning new ways in which he could to earn a few pennies. 

By the time the boy was 13 years old, he had four more siblings and his father had disappeared for good.  So he left school and started to work full time to support his mother, two brothers and two sisters.  Again doing whatever he could to earn some coins.  He continuously learned new trades – delivery boy, carpenter, janitor, short-order cook, stock boy -- becoming a sponge for any subject that would help make him branch out and do more things to earn enough money to feed the family. 

As his siblings grew, instead of having them go to work and try to take some of the burden off of himself, he encouraged them to stay in school. To make as much of themselves as they could, while he continued to support them. Like others of his generation, he spent some time in the Army -- also sending that paycheck home.  

Years later, that young man married and ultimately had another family to feed – his wife and two sons.  He encouraged his sons to do the same thing.  To stay in school, to enrich themselves, to learn something new everyday – not just in school but everywhere, from every experience.  Meanwhile, he had many jobs and tried many things – truck driver, warehouse manager, equipment operator, plumber.  When work dried up in one area, he’d learn to do something else. 

By the time he died in 1989 – way too young at 58 years old and shortly after his new daughter was born – he knew how to do practically everything.  He could fix anything and there was little he hadn’t tried. 

He approached life with a great sense of humor.
This remarkable man never achieved financial greatness or worldly renown.  When he died, he was still a humble man by “worldly standards.”  He was still a blue collar worker, although in mid-management at that point.  His last job was as an exterminator, but he had reveled in his newly learned knowledge about pest control.  And he had approached everything in his life with the same vigor and excitement. And with a great sense of humor, too. 

In his small piece of the world, he made a very large impact and had a very important message.  “The world,” he would say “is an amazing place and life is way too short to miss out on all it has to offer.  The whole world is your classroom – you should learn from it.”   

It is this wisdom that I share with you today in recognition of what would have been his 87th birthday. 

Learn something new every day.  Period.  That’s the message.  Learn something new everyday. 

I’m not necessarily talking about formal classes, although they can be very rewarding, but learn from everything around you.  Each and every day brings us a new experience, a new opportunity to broaden ourselves, to improve ourselves.  No day should be wasted. 

With each experience we should come away enriched, more the wiser for what we have learned – even if that lesson was simply what NOT to do. 

Don’t be afraid to try new things.  So many people block themselves off from the many rich experiences that life has to offer. 

Try new foods.  You don’t know what you’ll like until you try it.  Some people say that they eat only certain things because they know they like them, so why take a chance on not liking something else.  My answer to that is, what if you like this something new even better? 

Travel.  See the world. Or see the country.  Or even the state or the city.  Take a different route home.  On the weekend, instead of sitting at home watching the ball game, get in the car, drive up to the mountains, get off the highway and just get lost for a couple of hours on the back roads.  You’ll ultimately find another major road, or you can use an old-fashioned map, ask for directions, or use your GPS crutch if you need it, but think of the beautiful scenery you might get to see.  Or that little hole-in-the-wall restaurant you might find where they make the best burgers on the planet. 

My wife and I have had some of the best meals in places like this. 

Or that little mom-and-pop antique shop that you may stumble across that has the very same dinnerware you had in your house when you were a kid and can bring back a flood of wonderful childhood memories.  I found a lamp that my grandmother had when I was a kid! 

Listen to a variety of music.  Go to live performances of all kinds. 

Take classes and read books, not only in your field, but in other areas that might interest you. Broaden your horizons. 

And don’t forget to apply this to work too.  Try new ways of doing things.  Be open minded to suggestions and ideas.  If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.  If you want something better, you’ve got to try something new. 

And most importantly, pass it on.  Instill this ethic to those around you and you will find that you will enjoy your time together more – whether that is family or coworkers. 

If you take every experience – good and bad – and learn something from it, you will find yourself less stressed, able to deal with change more readily (perhaps even embracing it); able to deal with crises more easily; able to think quickly when you need to.  You’ll be more eligible for promotions (if that is what you desire) or ready to take on a new career field (if that is what you desire) or perhaps ready to play at your new hobbies in your retirement (if that is what you desire). 

You will find it hard to be grouchy.  Sure, you’ll still have bad days – we all do – but they will be easier to deal with. 

I have embraced this lesson of continuous learning.  I learned this lesson first-hand from that hard-working wise man I was telling you about.  The one with the Italian middle name that meant “Flower”. 

Yeah, that's dad and me. 
I can think of no better tribute to my father than to live by his ethics and to spread his advice to others. 

So take this message to heart.  Enrich your life.  Learn from every experience and expand your experiences to expand your learning. 

I hope you have learned something new today.  

Happy birthday, dad. I love you and miss you. 

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